Monday, June 29, 2015

Of daughters (and sons) . . . and faith!

     It would have been fun, in light of some conversations this week and then between the two services, to spend some time looking at 2 Samuel.  It is a fearful, frightening thing to kill or oppose God’s anointed.  We should remember that, when we are involved in a ministry to which God calls us, and we encounter opposition.  Certainly our relationship to God is different than the covenant He offered Saul and kept with David, but it is no less meaningful.  And, in light of what is happening in the world around us, it might be tempting to discuss the relation of Jonathan and Saul and what David means by saying that his love for Jonathan surpasses that of women.  But, as a group, I do not think that our issue at Advent.  Our issue, as the Holy Cow suggested, was that we do not claim our heritage as adopted sons and adopted daughters of our Father in heaven.

     That being said, I really wanted us to look at Mark’s Gospel this morning.  For all those who have visited with me, argued with me, and drank with me as they tried to convince me I was wrong in my insistence that God has a calling or callings for everyone, Mark is the perfect antidote.

     Our story begins with Jesus arriving back on the Jewish side of the sea.  Mark, as you have all noticed, particularly those of you who drop in for Tom’s and Larry’s Bible study between the services, is sort of the Joe Friday of the Gospel writers.  Mark gives us the facts and just the facts.  There is little fluff; and there is a lot of “immediately’s.”   Mark describes what Jesus did so that we might make a decision as to who Jesus is and was and will be.  After the casting out of the demons, Jesus heads back across the sea.  Upon landing there Jairus meets him and kneels with a request.  We know that Jairus is unique for several reasons.  One, Mark names him.  Few people whom Jesus encounters in Mark’s Gospel get named.  That, in and of itself, is reason enough for us to sit up and take notice.  But we learn he is like our Senior or Junior wardens at the synagogue.  He is not addressed as Rabbi and no one accords him the respect as one who reads from the scrolls, but he clearly serves some important role in the synagogue.  The people who follow him, who come to him and tell him to stop wasting the Rabbi’s time, and the size of the number of mourners at his house upon the arrival tell us he has some authority akin to a warden or member of the Vestry.  Why are you all laughing?

     Anyway, this Jairus comes to Jesus and kneels and asks the Healer if He will lay hands on his daughter who is near death.  The gallows humor of a few moments ago informs the desperation of Jairus.  This may shock you, but Wardens and Vestry members and, yes, priests do not always have an abiding sense of control.  More often than not, all three groups are walking that fine line between nothing getting done and making people mad.  Push too hard, people get mad and quit coming.  Don’t push enough, and nothing gets done.  Yes, I see the nods of agreement.

     Jairus, though, has heard of Jesus’ healings.  He has no idea about Jesus’ identity as the Incarnation.  Things such as soteriology and Christology mean nothing to him.  All he knows is that this Jesus has performed some incredible healings.  The miracles of Jesus testify to the fact that He is certainly sent by God, and so Jairus begs Jesus to consent to save his little daughter.  Can you imagine the fear?  The pain?  The worry about failure?  Jairus has all that.  His daughter is beyond his help, and he cannot bear the thought of losing her.  And so he asks Jesus to come and heal her.

     As great as his worry and fear and doubts must have been, can we imagine the heights of his elation at Jesus’ response?  Thanks be to God, He will heal her!  I can see Jairus doing those inner celebratory somersaults.  I can well imagine he turned to his confidants and aides present with all kinds of excited “He said He would do it!”

     Then a funny thing happened on the way to heal his daughter.  As Jairus’ burdens have been lifted, Jesus stops in the midst of the crowd.  Who touched me?  The Apostles and disciples answer with a sarcastic “Who hasn’t touched you?  Look at the crowd” kind of response.  Jairus must have been chafing at the bit.  Who cares?  Save my daughter.  You promised!  Mark often sandwiches one story within a story so that we might better understand some of the lessons and teachings he wishes to impart.  This is one of those sandwiches.

     Mark tells us that a woman has been hemorrhaging for twelve years.  I know we live in a culture that does not like to speak about “that time of the month” except in certain commercials, but we cannot begin to grasp what this uterine bleeding meant for the woman in question.  Because she is bleeding down there, she is ritually impure.  In practical terms, she is no better than a leper.  She is not allowed in the synagogue and she is not allowed in the Temple.  She is cut off from her form of church.  My guess is, people being people, that she was the scorn of all who lived near her, all who had the possibility of interacting with her, of all who might bump into her at market or at a well.  You see, if you touched a menstruating woman, you became unclean as well.  You could not return to worship until you made the appropriate sacrifices.  Those sacrifices, we all know, cost money.  Who wants to spend their hard-earned denarius being made clean because they touched a menstruating woman?  Who wanted to risk sitting where she sat?

     We might assume she was a widow, to boot.  Mark does not tell us she is widowed.  Maybe the husband simply left.  Mark does tell us that she spent all that she had seeking a cure, not all that she and her husband had.  And let’s face it, what guy is going to hang around with a middle age wife whose very existence makes him unclean?  No, her life is harder than we could ever imagine.  It has cost her her ability to lean on neighbors.  It has cost her her ability to have true friends.  And the disease?  It’s only gotten worse under the treatment by all those doctors.  Now this Jesus, this man who has been working incredible, awesome miracles of healing is present.  If she can but touch his cloak, she knows she will be healed.  Sure enough, she is right.  She feels what has happened to her body immediately and slinks back into the crowd and anonymity.

     Except Jesus will have none of that.  He stops and asks who touched Him.  Poor Jairus.  What must he think of this delay?  The disciples think Jesus is nuts for asking.  Who hasn’t touched the Master as they pushed through the crowd?  But Jesus will have none of that.  He demands an answer.

     Those of us in modern America might think Jesus is being cruel.  All the lady did was touch His cloak.  She knew what the touch would mean for His ritual cleanliness, but she was concerned for her own healing.  She was desperate.  Who could not empathize with her situation.  But Jesus wants to know, or does He already know? . . .

     In fear and trembling, we are told, the lady re-approaches the Rabbi and confesses that it was her.  No doubt the crowd recognizes her.  No doubt people began to freak out that they were now unclean and unable to go to worship without being purified.  She tells Jesus the whole truth.  I thought that if I touched your cloak, I would be healed.  For the only time in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus addresses a woman as Daughter.  “your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

     There are several important lessons for us in this story, and we will cover them in a moment with the resulting lessons of Jairus’ daughter, but think of the healing and restoration granted to this woman.  She has been an outcast for twelve years.  She has spent every denarius she had on cures, and she is no better for the monies spent.  At some point, she had to realize that she was spending money she would need to live in the future on the doctors.  But she chose to risk her future on the ability to have friends, family, neighbors, and strangers able to be in her present.  Her isolation drove her to make a horrible choice.  And it failed!  Now, in a bit of a Hail Mary, if you will excuse the pun, she touches the cloak of Jesus and is given an amazing healing.  She knows the bleeding has stopped, and she is content with that.  Jesus, who desires more than we can ask or imagine for ourselves, asks who touched Him.  And when she confesses the truth to Him, He restores her to Israel!  He, a man of God, calls her daughter!  Can you imagine the buzz?  He is not mad that He needs to be purified.  He calls her daughter, pronounces that her faith has healed her, and tells her to go in peace in front of the crowd!  All those who shunned her have heard this Jesus readmit her to the people of God.  The story will go forth that He healed her, that she is no longer an object of scorn.  Better still, He called her daughter.

     Here’s a question for those of you who thought Jesus was mean to single her out: After His death and Resurrection, after people begin to realize that He is and was the Son of God, what will it mean to her to have been called daughter?  What will it mean to her neighbors, as she ages and faces the vagaries of life, that Messiah called her daughter?

     Jairus, of course, is not thinking about any of this.  We can well imagine his impatience.  I’m sure he was trying to hurry Jesus along without wanting to offend Jesus.  The woman has been bleeding for twelve years.  My daughter may die today if You don’t get a move on!  And, as Jesus is speaking with the woman and restoring her in the eyes of the crowd, messengers arrive from the house.  It is too late.  Jairus’ daughter is dead.  Jairus must have wanted to lash out at Jesus for dawdling, at the crowd for hindering their progress, at the lady for her presumptive interruption and the distraction it caused.  Jesus hears the words of the messengers and says to Jairus, though, not to fear.  In fact, Jesus tells Jairus to faith.  We will talk a bit more in a moment about Jesus’ instruction, but Jesus reminds the father what brought him to Jesus in the first place.

     Upon their arrival at the house, the small procession hears the mourners at work.  Jesus asks why they are carrying on so, since the girl is but sleeping.  The mourners laughed at Him.  They know death.  Their livelihood depends upon it.  Jesus puts everyone out of the house except the girl’s mother, Jairus, Peter, James, and John.  He grabs the girl’s hand and, for the first time in Mark’s Gospel, speaks in Aramaic.  He says, “Little girl, get up.”  Amazingly, she does!  The twelve year old girl gets up and starts to walk about.  So that they and we would understand she is not a ghost, Jesus orders her fed.  Then He strictly orders the family and Apostles to say nothing of what He has just done.

     Two incredible stories.  We would think that each deserves its own telling.  The miracle of the hemorrhaging woman is a wonderful testimony to God who does more than we can ever ask or imagine.  And the power over death!  Talk about amazing.  Yet Mark sandwiches one within the other to teach us a great deal about faith.  Both are, in Mark’s eyes, necessary if we are to understand what Jesus revealed about faith  So what do we learn about faith two thousand years removed from this story, never mind the miles and cultural differences?

     The first thing we learn about faith is that it is the means by which we appropriate the power of God, our inheritance, if you will, as His adopted sons and His adopted daughters.  When we celebrate the Eucharist using the words of Rite 1, I always speak the words “ . .  . and through faith in His Blood, we and all Thy whole Church, may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of His passion.”  What does that mean when we pray that?  What benefits do we think we are getting besides forgiveness of sins?  Those of you who only celebrate Rite 2 now have probably forgotten that part of our service, but it’s there on page 335.  If the Eucharist is a pledge of our inheritance, what is it that we think we are inheriting?  Even our liturgy reminds us, though, that our faith is the key to both the remission of our sins and the access to those other benefits.

     Notice, too, there is no right or wrong faith.  The warden kneels before Jesus and begs Him to come and heal his daughter.  The woman approaches Him convinced by faith that the touch of His mere cloak will hear her.  Jesus commends them both for their faith.  Jesus accomplishes their hearts desire because of that faith.

     Too often, brothers and sisters, we must be in desperation before we begin to have the kind of faith evidenced in this story.  The woman thought her money and the expertise of the doctors would cure her.  Jairus was moved to the point of falling on his knees before Jesus.  Each, in their own way, knew that they were insufficient.  Each came to realize that there was a limit to their resources, to their power, to the knowledge, to their abilities.  It was only when they reached that point that they were moved to seek God incarnate in Christ.  It was only when everything in the world around them had failed that they turned to the One who could save.  We know this.  Yet how often do go through life never really thinking about our faith?  How often do we think our resources, our prestige, our strength, our wisdom, our whatever will be sufficient for us?  How often do not really turn in faith to the One who would call us Son or Daughter?

     The second import lesson for us Adventers about faith, I think, is that it requires dogged determination or perseverance.  Think of the courage of the woman as she worked her way through the crowd.  At any moment, someone might recognize her and call out.  What, in her mind’s fears, do you think would happen then?  The Rabbi would shrink from her touch?  The crowd would cry out for her punishment or death?  And yet she fights her way through the crowd to get to the One whom she knows is sent by God.  If I but touch His cloak, I will be healed!

     More amazingly, I think, is the persistence that she shows in light of Jesus’ question.  Who touched Me?  She wants nothing more than to slink away back into the crowd.  She has felt His power in her body, but she still does not want anyone to know she was there, that she presumed?  Who touched Me?  In fear and trembling, we are told, she goes back to Jesus and tells Him the truth.  She just knew the Holy Man was going to be mad.  She just knew the crowd was going to be enraged.  But she came back to Jesus, knelt before Him, and told Him the truth.  For her persevering faith, she is named a Daughter of her Father in Heaven.  She is no longer a byword, someone to be scorned; she is a Daughter of God!  Talk about appropriating a benefit of His passion!

     And poor Jairus, what of him?  He is nothing but polite in his journey with Jesus.  No matter what was happening below the surface, Jairus was outwardly deferential to Jesus.  And when Jesus tells him in the face of his daughter’s death not to fear, Jairus faiths!  Jairus trusts that Jesus can do something about his daughter, even though the messengers are whispering in his ear.  Don’t bother the Teacher any longer.  She is dead.  How long must that walk have seemed to Jairus with those whispers.  Yet he places one foot in front of the other, following the Healer.

     Once they get to the house, the situation is no better.  The mourners are there wailing in full chorus.  When Jesus asserts she is but asleep, the mourners scoff at Him.  Still, Jairus follows.  When Jesus puts everyone out of the house, Jairus and his wife are allowed to stay.  And for their courage in the face of death, for their persisting faith, they get to witness their daughter brought back from the dead!  Nothing like this has happened since the days of Elijah!

     Another lesson we learn about faith is that it is accompanied by action.  Faith is a verb of doing.  We cannot rightly claim to be faithful Christians and not be working to love our Lord and love our neighbors.  We can cluck all day like chickens about this evil or that evil, but if we are not acting against those evil in faith, we are abandoning our inheritance, we are not being faithful.

     I was watching Evan Almighty yesterday with an eye to today.  It’s a cute movie based loosely on Noah.  What saves everyone?  It is Evan’s faith in God that causes him to build that ark.  Evan is mocked and derided; his neighbors and colleagues in the house poke fun at him.  They even turn to the legal authorities to try and stop him.  But Evan builds the ark, trusting that God has a purpose.  His faith in God saves all those who end up on the ark.  But his faith would have been worthless too all had he not first acted on it!

     Jairus is moved to greet Jesus and kneel before Him as a supplicant.  The woman had to work her way through the crowd and touch His cloak.  Each had a different way of acting, but neither could sit back and wait for the desire of their faith to be realized.  Both had work to do and did it

     The last lesson, I think, that we learn about faith in this story is that Jesus is the only appropriate object of faith.  Sometimes we may not understand the question, but we sure know the answer is Jesus!  Make no mistake, there is no quiz on doctrine espoused in this story.  Jesus never says to the warden, “You do not rightly understand Me as Messiah, therefore soteriology prevents Me from acting on your behalf.”  He never says to the woman, “Your touching of my cloak smacks of magic rather than the divination of God’s intents and purposes for His people; I, therefore withhold my healing and blessing from you.”  You laugh, but how often do we put up such barriers to other who are seeking God in and through Christ?  How often do we put up litmus tests of our own choosing, rather than God’s, to limit who we want in His circle of “the faithful?”  We pick and choose acceptable sins.  We pick and choose the kinds of people who can join us.  And we tell ourselves and others that we are right to make those choices.

     Jesus’ response to the faith of these two individuals teaches us that our barriers are not His barriers.  To the woman whose faith seems simplistic to some and magic-seeking of others, He was the Healer.  To the man who saw Jesus as a man of God, He was every bit the Miracle Worker.  All He asks for is the best faith in Him that we can give!  That’s it.  The rest is up to Him!

     Of course, I am mindful that we are still left with a horrible pastoral problem in the minds of some this morning.  Some of you sitting here have been doing a checklist in your minds.  Yes, I have faith in God.  Yes, I am persistent.  Yes, I act on my faith.  Yes, I believe that Jesus is the answer to my problem.  I have all “yesses;” why does God not act for me?  It is a struggle which God’s enemy uses to convince us that God does not really care about us and our situations or that we are irredeemable, but that Mark’s “rest of the story” so eloquently speaks God’s peace into our lives.  Into what world, brothers and sisters, was the healed woman sent?  Into what world was Jairus’ daughter raised?  Ours.  Both were left to face a life full of the vagaries and vicissitudes we take for granted.  We know the healed woman faced life with meager resources.  Jairus’ daughter is only twelve and, as Jesus has not returned, experienced illness and death once more.  How do you think they faced life and its storms?

     Both would always have the healing in their life to reflect upon.  Both knew that the true hope in their lives was Jesus.  Nothing could take that away, neither bleeding nor death.  Over and over, I pray to God for you all.  In my few short months among you, I have prayed for deliverance from disease for individuals here gathered, for deliverance from death for an individual no longer gathered among us, for abundance in the face of poverty, for restoration in the wake of broken relationships.  I understand and share your frustration.  Why doesn’t God answer me?  I am guessing that the woman and Jairus’ daughter would share our frustration, too.  They experienced His Healing but likely did not at times later in life.  But even if none of us had experienced miraculous healings or provision or other blessings in our own lives, we still have the promise of the Cross and Empty Tomb!  We know that God is sufficient to meet whatever transpires against us!  Just because He chooses not to act does not mean He lacks the capacity or power to act.  We are called to a faith in Jesus that understands He may use our suffering, and our responses to the suffering of those around us, to His honor and His glory.  Our relationship to Him as an adopted Daughter or an adopted Son means that sometimes we are the suffering servants in the lives of others.  But, and never forget this, our status as His Daughters and as His Sons means that He never abandons us.  As committed as He was to Israel and the world through their respective failures and opposition, He is just as committed to us through ours!  Even if the world seems to win and conquer us, even if the storms overwhelm us and take our lives, He has promised that we will be with Him always, even to the end of the age!  He can no more refuse to raise us, than He would choose to have kept His power from going forth into the daughters of whom we read today!  And in the end, we serve a God who, in His power and majesty, sees our death as mere sleep.  In the end, or in the Day of Judgement, when His enemies and our enemies are mocking us for His obvious failure or abandonment, we know that He will cast them out and call us forth from our slumber, not content to feed us a bit of food, but to take us to the Feast.



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